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FCC commissioner blasts call from Mosby’s office for investigation of WBFF

Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby holds a press conference outside the courthouse in downtown Baltimore on Friday, March 26, 2021.
Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby holds a press conference outside the courthouse in downtown Baltimore on Friday, March 26, 2021. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr on Monday blasted the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for its call last week for an investigation of Sinclair-owned WBFF-TV, Baltimore’s Fox affiliate.

The complaint against the conservative-leaning WBFF characterized the station’s coverage of the state’s attorney’s office and Mosby as biased, inflammatory and dangerous.

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Carr, who was nominated to the commission by Donald Trump, is the senior Republican on the panel, according to the FCC website. His opinion does not necessarily reflect that of other board members and doesn’t indicate how the commission might weigh in on the complaint from Mosby’s office.

His statement Monday further politicized the matter in its wider criticism of Democrats.

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“The State’s Attorney’s Office complaint alleges that there is ‘troubling, abhorrent, and outright dangerous’ conduct going on here. They are correct in this respect — it is the conduct of the State’s Attorney’s Office that is troubling, abhorrent, and outright dangerous,” his statement said.

“Yet this complaint is part of a recent and troubling surge in efforts by Democrat officials to pressure the FCC and its regulated entities into censoring news coverage and political speech that Democrats don’t like,” he continued. “The FCC should make clear that it will not operate as the DNC’s speech police. That is why the FCC must dismiss this complaint with prejudice by the end of today. No journalists should have a complaint like this from their city’s top prosecutor hanging over their newsroom.”

Carr also attacked Mosby’s complaint on First Amendment grounds.

“The State’s Attorney’s Office, led by Democrat Marilyn Mosby, has launched a chilling and direct attack on free speech and journalistic freedom. The complaint her office filed with the FCC asks the Commission to censor a newsroom simply because journalists are doing their constitutionally protected jobs and shining a light on the work of the State’s Attorney. Invoking the power of the state to silence journalists for unfavorable coverage strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment,” Carr’s statement said.

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Zy Richardson, communications director in the state’s attorney’s office and author of the letter of complaint, responded to Carr’s claims about free speech Monday.

“We are very clear in the letter that we support free speech and we support accountability of public officials,” Richardson wrote in an email to The Sun. “To say otherwise is willfully ignorant. We are simply asking the FCC to look into the racist and hateful rhetoric that is consistently broadcast by WBFF Fox 45 and its potential to incite threats of violence on the State’s Attorney and her children.”

Richardson’s statement went on to say, “Just in the last week, we have received death threats, racist emails and messages, including voicemails, referencing Fox coverage. Given the political division that currently exists in this country, our desire is that this local Fox affiliate will behave more responsibly given their platform, before someone gets hurt.”

In seeking comment on Mosby’s complaint last week, The Sun was told the agency does not comment on such matters.

When asked about Carr’s comment in light of that statement from the FCC, a spokesman for the commissioner wrote in an email that “each Commissioner/Chair can decide whether to comment on these issues.” The aide included links to two other similar statements from Carr in recent months.

An FCC spokesperson sent a follow-up statement to The Sun Monday that said: “The Commission carefully reviews all communications sent to the agency, from formal filings to informal consumer complaints. We’re reviewing the Baltimore State Attorney General’s recent letter. The acting Chairwoman is clear about her support of the First Amendment and believes freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy.”

Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, also weighed in the matter Monday with a letter to the FCC asking the commission to reject Mosby’s request.

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